Common Causes of Stiff Back and How to Get Relief

By: Ehren Allen, Physical Therapist/Certified Manual Orthopedic Therapist

Common Causes of Stiff Back and How to Get Relief

80% of the population will experience a back problem at some point in their lives. Low back pain is the single leading cause of disability worldwide, according to the Global Burden of Disease 2010. Fortunately, most cases of back pain are mechanical or non-organic, meaning they are not caused by serious conditions, such as inflammatory arthritis, infection, fracture, or cancer. There are many who have pulled a back muscle in their lifetime by simply doing a daily activity. The back is a complicated structure of bones, joints, ligaments, and muscles. You can sprain ligaments, strain muscles, rupture discs, compress nerves, and irritate joints - all of which can lead to back pain. While sports injuries or accidents can cause back pain, sometimes the simplest of movements can have painful results. In addition, risk factors such as arthritis, poor posture, sleeping position, obesity, and psychological stress can cause or complicate back pain.

Common causes of stiff back can stem from your back muscles 
Common causes of stiff back can stem from your back muscles 

As we age, we can expect an increased inflammatory response. This increased inflammatory response is a most commonly a byproduct of metabolic syndrome, a set of biological dysfunctions strongly linked to poor fitness, obesity, aging, and possibly linked to chronic stress as well. Incorporating a fitness program into your daily routine, eating a healthy diet, and working on eliminating stressors in life may positively impact your overall quality of life if you are dealing with back pain secondary to inflammation. To learn more about the anatomy of the low back, please watch this VIDEO.

Sciatic Nerve Pain

Inflammation or pressure on a nerve root exiting the spine may be a more serious cause of low back pain. It may cause pain to radiate in the leg and foot, otherwise known as lumbar radiculopathy or sciatic nerve pain. These symptoms may result from changes that develop in the spines discs and bones. With nerve compression, sometimes pain may be your only symptom. 

Common Sciatica Symptoms

Other common symptoms include numbness or tingling, “pins and needles” or a burning sensation, as well as weakness- especially with certain activities. Treatment varies, depending on the severity and cause of the nerve compression. Most may find that they greatly benefit from simply resting the injured area and by avoiding activities that tend to worsen symptoms. If symptoms persist or pain is severe, see a doctor. Sometimes prescription medication, physical therapy, injections or surgical intervention is warranted.

Low Back AnatomyLow Back Anatomy

Muscle tension is also an important factor to consider. Common causes of tense muscles include trauma, overuse or repetitive stress, and poor posture. A sudden traumatic injury from lifting improperly, a fall or an accident, sometimes referred to as “throwing out your back,” typically leads to pain, inflammation and muscle spasms. This is considered an acute muscle strain. Overuse is similar but on a smaller scale. Instead of one injury, overuse involves smaller stresses on your muscles over time from repeating tasks, such as lifting objects for several hours or regularly carrying a heavy backpack. When muscles aren’t given enough time to recover, they fatigue and become stiff. 

Posture and Low Back Pain

Poor posture, such as sitting hunched over a desk, also results in back stiffness due to some muscles being overworked while others are under worked, leading to an imbalance.

For those dealing with mild to moderate back pain, stretching and gentle exercise may be of some benefit. Many people experience their first acute episode of low back pain during the night, and the morning effect is also a dreaded part of chronic low back pain. Even people who are more or less pain-free during the day may still experience routine and significant irritation and stiffness first thing in the morning. Morning back pain is a tough problem to treat because most of it have several chronic causes, but there may be some opportunities for treatment in changing the way we sleep. The most likely position to cause trouble with low back pain is face down. 

What can you do to Help the Pain?

We can do a little to minimize the chances of an awkward position, mainly by starting out as comfortably as we can, and adding a little bracing with pillows to discourage too much rolling around. Placing a knee pillow between your knees while lying on your side will reduce rotation in the spine, and limit rolling.

In addition, here are some exercises you can incorporate into your daily routine if you are dealing with mild to moderate back pain.

For more information about the lower back and hip pain, go to lower back pain & hip anatomy

Exercises or Stretches for Back Pain

Knee to Chest: Start by lying on the back with the knees bent upward. With both hands, pull one knee up into your chest. Hold this stretch for 15 to 30 seconds. Return the leg slowly to the floor and repeat with the opposite leg. Hold for the appropriate time and then return this leg to the floor. Finally, grasp both knees and gently pull both legs into the chest simultaneously.  This is a lower back stretch. 

Exercises for low back painSingle Knee and Double Knee To Chest Exercise

Hamstring Stretch Seated: Sit on the edge of a chair with your leg that your stretching straight out.  Your other leg should be bent.  Keep your back straight and lean forward until you feel the stretch in the back of your thigh.  Hold the stretch for 15 to 30 seconds. 

Stretches for low back pain Seated Hamstring Stretch

Cat Stretch: Start on your hands and knees. Sag your back and belly toward the floor. Then slowly arch your back, tugging the abdomen toward the ceiling. Return to original position and then repeat.

Exercises for back painCat Stretch For Back Pain

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Book an Appointment with The Jacksonville Orthopaedic Institute Today!

JOI Physicians continue to offer online new patient appointments. This is another option to make it more convenient to make new patient appointments with less phone hold times to reach a doctor for your back. Follow the link below to select your JOI MD and schedule online.  If you have persistent back pain, it is probably time to make an appointment with a JOI doctor for your back! 

You can still call 904-JOI-2000 to make new patient JOI Physician Appointments if that is your preference.

To make appointments for JOI Rehab for your back, please call 904-858-7045.

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